A couple Saturdays ago, several family members met up for a boisterous breakfast get-together. Years back, this was a regular weekend event and I’m sure we were all feeling the obvious…
As often as I’m told I have my mother’s ‘look’, my dad’s two sisters dwell in me as well. No longer here to give the waitress a hard time, I found something I wrote of them years ago-
I’ve developed an ache for family folklore and call my father’s two big sisters to spend an afternoon looking at old photos. It’s been awhile since last visiting this house, where they’ve lived together for as long as I can remember. Both widowed young, they sought companionship in each other.
Back then their house was spotless and modern. Now, several newspapers scatter the porch and I pick them up before knocking. Once inside, I can’t shake the weight of dust and wear, the sense that I’m in a weird time travel movie. Everything is as I remember –the grandfather clock ticking by the fireplace, the rooster salt and pepper shakers on the kitchen table, Uncle Buddy’s piano…the mainstay of the living room though only he played.
As a child, we visited every Wednesday night. Instructions were always given to sit on my hands and not touch anything. I’d curl up in the straight-backed beige chair and quietly watch ‘Room 222’ on television, sucking peppermints kept in a crystal candy dish.
On this chilly day, I sit on the couch between my aunts, a wrinkled grocery bag on the floor beside us. Reaching in, I randomly choose an album. Flipping pages, asking questions, I listen to them argue about who is who and what was going on when each photo was taken. They often sound harsh, but this is routine and they let it go, time and again.
They were knockouts as young women. ‘Merry widows’ they both joke and Aunt Ann fluffs her wig with a vanity that makes me smile. “Back when I had hair,” she starts and launches into a story. I encourage her, wanting to know, feeling a deep need to understand this part of my heritage.
I look in both their faces – the way they speak, how they gesture with their hands (fingers long like mine), tilt their heads and I am hungry for a glimpse of myself, looking for clues. The photos call to me and I want to know who each person is, how we are related.
My aunts eagerly share information in a jumbled, non-sequential way that somehow wraps around us and makes perfect sense. We become comfortable with the passing of pictures and time.
I look at a photo of the two of them in bathing suits and smiles, lying on a beach somewhere in the tropics, “Wow, you ladies must have turned a lot of heads!”
“We were your age when that picture was taken,” my Aunt Flo says, drawing the snapshot about an inch from her cloudy eyes.
The photo captivates me and at the same time, takes my breath away. I never considered these two women were ever my age. It takes time to process what she just said and I do the math more than once.
“Here’s my graduation picture,” says Aunt Ann. “Look how white my teeth were. And they were all mine.”
She hands me a high school yearbook, “1934 – Hartford High School”. In the photo she is beautiful and dreamy, not the hard-angled woman I’ve known growing up. Under her photo is written “…quite the gal on the dance floor.”
Aunt Ann says, “I was a hellion in those days. Your father had his hands full keeping the boys away from me. Oh yes, Honey. You should have seen your old aunt!”
Again she fluffs her wig and her eyes close. I think she has fallen asleep and reach over to pull up the afghan. Her eyes flash open and she laughs a bawdy laugh. “Honey, have I got stories! Let me tell you!”